Leg Pain

Lower Body Aches: Why Do Your Legs Ache?

Achy legs can be hard to live with especially if they flare up at night, keeping you tossing and turning, unable to get comfortable. Around 100 million Americans currently suffer from chronic pain, which is defined as pain that lasts longer than six months. Chronic pain can be continuous or episodic, excruciating or mild, completely incapacitating or a mild inconvenience. In the case of chronic pain, the pain signals will remain active in the nervous system for months- and even years. This can take an emotional toll on a person as well as a physical one.

Chronic pain/aches could originate due to an original injury/trauma or infection, or there could be an ongoing cause of pain present. Some individuals suffer from chronic pain even in the absence of evidence of body damage or past injuries.

The emotional toll that chronic pain brings can make the pain worse. Anxiety and depression, stress, fatigue, and anger interact with chronic pain in complex ways and could possibly decrease the body’s natural production of painkillers. Additionally, the negative feelings could increase the level of substance in the body that actually amplify pain sensations. This creates a vicious cycle of pain for the individual. The body’s most basic defenses become compromised. There is also considerable evidence that chronic pain actually suppresses the immune system.

Cause of Leg Pain

If you’re dealing with pain in your legs, you are probably wondering if it is something serious or something you can simply treat at home on your own. Following are some common causes of leg pain and how to treat them. If you have any questions about your leg pain or if your symptoms do not get better- or perhaps get worse- you should consult your physician.

chronic aching in lower body

Muscle Cramps

This is also referred to as a “charley horse.” It is a sudden, intense, and tight pain in the lower leg. These are usually caused by dehydration, muscle fatigue, or heat. Typically, muscle cramps are more common among endurance athletes, or athletes who have not been well conditioned, or older individuals. Most of the time, you can ease your muscle cramps by stopping whatever you were doing that triggered them. If necessary, you can very gently stretch or massage your leg muscles. Also, applying heat to tight muscles or a cold pack to tender muscles could ease the symptoms of muscle cramps. In the future, proper stretching and conditioning could help to prevent problems.

Shin Splints

This form of leg pain happens when the muscles and connective tissues on the edges of the shin bone become inflamed. This happens most often after jumping or running- especially on hard surfaces. The repetitive force of the footfalls overload the tendons and muscles. Things that contribute to the problem are flat feet and too much outward rotation of the leg and foot. The pain will usually dissipate with rest. It can also help to take anti-inflammatory medications, apply ice, and avoid any activities that result in pain. Once the pain begins to lessen, you should strengthen and stress your legs. In order to prevent future shin splints, you should wear shoes that are supportive and avoid running or working out on hard surfaces.

Inflamed or Torn Muscles or Tendons

One of the very first signs of tendonitis, or an inflamed tendon, is pain in the back of the heel or in the lower calf. To treat this condition, you should take anti-inflammatory medications, apply ice, and avoid activities that result in pain. Additionally, wearing supportive shoes that lessen the tension on your tendons could possibly help. Just as you would with shin splints, you should wait until the pain subsides to strengthen and stretch out your leg. If your pain is extremely severe, the Achilles tendon could be torn, so you should consult your physician. An inflamed or torn tendon can be a result of intense activity or not warming up sufficiently before a workout.

Broken Bone or Sprained Knee/Ankle

A fracture, or broken bone, or a sprain (an injury to the ligaments due to overstretching) can result in pain in the legs. For mild sprains, you should first try RICE- R-rest, I- ice, C- compression, and E- elevation. For a more severe sprain- or fracture- you should see your physician immediately. You could possibly need a brace- or even a cast. Additionally, you might need physical therapy to speed up the recovery process and improve mobility. Gradually increase the strength to support your weak leg.

Veins & Arteries and Leg Pain

Following are some of the common sources of leg pain that can be contributed to problems with the blood vessels:

Blood Clots

When a blood clot develops in a vein deep in the body, it is referred to as deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. Most of the time, DVT clots develop in the thighs or lower legs. They are much more likely to occur if you’re overweight, inactive for very long periods of time, smoke, or take medication that cause an increase in the risk of blood clots. If you think you have a blood clot, go to the ER or your physician immediately. Pieces of the clot can break off and travel to your lungs or other organs. Weight loss, medications, and support stockings are types of treatments that can prevent clots.

Varicose Veins

Weak vein walls and valves can cause you to have twisted purple or dark blue veins near the surface of your skin. Varicose veins can cause a dull ache in your legs, especially after prolonged standing. Support socks can be helpful, as well as alternating between sitting and standing throughout the day. Speak with your physician about other options for treatment if your varicose veins are extremely painful.

Infection

If you have a skin or soft tissue infection, it can cause your legs to be tender, red, warm, and swollen. A warm soak can help ease these symptoms. Additionally, your physician could prescribe some antibiotics. If your symptoms do worsen or you end up with a fever, call your physician immediately.

Lower Extremity PAD

PAD, or peripheral arterial disease, is when the lining of your arteries become damaged or hardened. The arteries become narrow or even blocked, decreasing the flow of blood. This causes lower leg pain or even cramping when climbing stairs, walking, or doing other types of exercise because the muscles are not getting enough blood. Resting can ease the symptoms of PAD. If the arteries are severely narrow or blocked, the pain could persist, even while resting. Treatment for PAD include: consuming a healthier diet, quitting smoking, managing your weight, and exercise. Other treatments include medications to help manage diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc. Also, surgery may be needed to improve blood flow.

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